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6 Degrees Entertainment

'Gunsmoke - The First Season'
(James Arness, Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone, Dennis Weaver, et al / 6-Disc DVD / NR / (1955) 2007 / Paramount Home Entertainment)

Overview: A TV series doesn't get a more auspicious launch than did Gunsmoke, the first episode of which, broadcast on Sept. 10, 1955, was introduced by none other than John Wayne ("Some of you may have seen me before"). In this historic prologue (included in this first-season round-up), Wayne hypes Gunsmoke as "honest, adult, and realistic." Of James Arness, starring as United States Marshal Matt Dillon, Wayne predicts, "He'll be a big star, so you might as well get used to him.

DVD Verdict: I applaud this release of the entire first season of 'Gunsmoke' on DVD, and hope the remainder of the best TV western ever made will also be released.

Gunsmoke, the longest running western in TV history (or TV drama for that matter at 20 years and 635 episodes), is complex and textured, dealing with mature themes and unforgettable characters that became part of our culture. It was billed as the first `adult western.'

I grew up watching the series, which debuted in 1955 as a half-hour black and white show then progressed to an hour in its seventh season, and began being produced in color in 1966.

The original opening depicted the Marshall in a fast-draw gunfight against a villain he killed, but this was toned down years later after groups complained of violence. As a result, rather than seeing the villain fall dead, the camera instead stayed only on Dillon as he drew his `peacemaker.' In the 70's, the opening eliminated the gunfight altogether and depicted Dillon riding quickly across the range. In the 1960's, early episodes of the series were rebroadcast as `Marshall Dillon.'

The much-honored and beloved show went off the air in 1975. Thirty-nine glorious black and white half-hour shows comprise this incredible set.

Few need to be told what his western depicted: It's the story of Marshall Matt Dillon (played to perfection by James Arness) who tamed the lawless Dodge City, Kansas, in 1873. He did so not only with his six-shooter but with his courage, sense of honor, justice and irreproachable integrity behind the badge.

A radio show predated the TV series and aired from 1952 to 1961. The radio Marshall was voiced by William Conrad (who later portrayed the lead role of the portly private investigator `Cannon' in the 1970's.) When CBS decided to produce a TV series, Conrad wanted the role, but wasn't chosen because of his girth. The rumor that western icon John `Duke' Wayne was offered the pivotal role of Dillon, but he turned it down and instead recommended his good friend Arness, has largely been debunked.

In addition to Dillon, the core characters are Miss Kitty Russell (Amanda Blake), owner of the Longbranch Saloon and Matt's long-time love and lover; the crusty but sensitive Doctor Galen Adams (Milburn Stone); and Deputy Chester Goode (Dennis Weaver). Burt Reynolds also had a recurring role as Quint Asper from 1962-1965. Ken Curtis replaced Goode as `Matthew's' Deputy Festus Haggen, who portrayed the loveable deputy who couldn't read from 1959 through the end of the series. Gunsmith then deputy Newly O'Brien (portrayed by Buck Taylor) moved to Dodge City in 1967 and remained until the show went off the air. Pat Hingle portrayed hard-nosed Doctor John Chapman for six episodes in 1971 when Milburn Stone left briefly for health reasons.

Arness and Stone remained through the series entire 20-year run, while Blake brilliantly portrayed the red-headed Kitty for 19 seasons.

Weekly guest stars represented the cream of the acting crop for decades! Here's an example: Bette Davis, Victor French, Morgan Woodward, Jack Elam, Denver Pyle, Jeanette Nolan, Jim Davis, Warren Oates, Jacqueline Scott, George Kennedy, Ed Nelson, Michael Learned, Forrest Tucker, Paul Fix, Slim Pickens, Bruce Dern, Harry Morgan, Steve Forfest, Richard Kiley, Beverly Garland and Leonard Nimoy.

Here are the episodes included in this boxed set: Matt Gets It (Debut); Hot Spell; Word of Honor; Home Surgery; Obie Tater; Night Incident; Smoking Out the Nolans; Kite's Reward; The Hunter; The Queue; General Parcley Smith; Magnus; Reed Survives; Professor Lute Bone; No Handcuffs; Reward for Matt; Robin Hood; Yorky; 20-20; Reunion '78; Helping Hand; Tap Day for Kitty; Indian Scout; The Pest Hole; The Big Board; Hack Prine; Cooter; The Killer; Doc's Revenge; The Preacher; How to Die for Nothing; Dutch George; Prairie Happy; Chester's Mail Order Bride; The Guitar; Cara; Mr. and Mrs. Amber; Unmarked Grave; and Alarm and Pleasant Valley. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1), but doesn't come with any Special Features.